Serious Analog for Serious Conditions: Medical Treatment Trackers and Planners

Just came back from a trip to see my parents, who live about 300 miles away from me. My father has been diagnosed with a serious illness, and my mother asked me to help her get organized to deal with her new household and caregiving responsibilities.

Choosing a Medical Treatment Tracker Notebook

Medical treatment trackers, sometimes also called medical binders or personal medical records books, help patients and/or their caregivers manage the firehose of information that comes with any serious medical condition.

These are NOT classic task and appointment books. They often store information ABOUT appointments, but do not replace your calendar and to-do list.

Think of this kind of notebook as a personal medical chart, with helpful layouts, which allow you to organize all this information without jargon or medico-legal boilerplate.

Before you choose a medical tracker, a medical planner, be clear on what kinds of information you need to manage.

Some are designed for parents, to manage their children’s medical conditions and coordinate with schools.

Some are designed for adults with chronic illnesses, to track routines and treatment plans.

Some are designed for specific illnesses, like cancer, and track surgeries and procedures.

Some are filled with illustrations and personal journaling sections and inspirational quotes; some are more clinical and to the point.

My one recommendation here is to choose a medical tracker where people who actually are living with the same situation or condition you’re dealing with, influenced the design.

In other words: if you are a parent with a child with complex care needs, was this planner designed by parents in similar situations, or REVISED after feedback from parents?

I chose this planner for my father’s situation, because a lot of patients and caregivers coping with the same condition liked this planner. It was also revised at least once based on customer feedback, so this is something real people with this real problem, have used and liked.

I also liked that it was spiral-bound, so it would lay flat when she writes in it; that it had hard laminate covers, so it could bounce around in a tote bag from appointment to appointment; and that it had tabs inside to make the various sections easier to find.

We also added some post-it tabs for my mother to navigate to specific pages.

A well-designed medical care tracker can help you and/or a caregiver manage:

  • information around appointments and procedures:
    • contact and address information for the procedure location
    • instructions before the procedure
    • notes about things like where to park and check in for your appointment
    • places for you to write down questions you have for the medical team
  • a canonical address book section for all the doctors you are working with, including their specialties, contact information, addresses; pharmacies; durable medical equipment suppliers
  • a list of medications, times, dosages
  • notes about what worked, what didn’t (e.g. a bad reaction to a medication; good to write down which one it was)

Choosing a Calendar and To-Do List Planner

Right now, my mother also has to manage household tasks and routines that my father normally took care of, before he fell ill.

So we also needed a regular planner for her, with a calendar and to-do lists.

I chose another spiral bound planner that lays flat.

It is large and colorful, so it is easy to find, and has plenty of room to write All The Things.

It has lots of tabs so she can find her way around. (We also added some extra Post-it tabs to make it even easier to navigate.)

This one has monthly spreads and weekly spreads. She can glance at appointments over a whole month, and she also has plenty of room to write things for each day of a week.

I wanted one that she could use right away, that would take her through 2024.

Finally, it has stickers.

My mother loves stickers; and if there is ever a time for ice cream and stickers, it is when you are dealing with a loved one’s serious illness.

Putting It All Together

Why not apps for all this?

My father has everything on apps (he is a retired software engineer), but my mother can’t access them because she is uncomfortable using computers, and right now, his illness is making it difficult for him to focus on apps.

Also, my sister – who lives near them, thank goodness – will be helping them out. She snaps pictures on her phone of pages in the medical tracker or the planner, with any information she wants to have.

Paper planners make that easy to share.

Previously, my mother could keep many things in her head, or just jot down notes on various pieces of scrap paper.

However, major illness comes with major information overload, and after a couple of months of dealing with this, she had lots of scrap paper in lots of places around the house.

After we got the medical tracker and the planner, we went all through the house and gathered:

  • medical discharge notes
  • printouts from various clinics with appointment times and provider phone numbers
  • scraps of paper and notebooks with bits of information on them (phone numbers, appointment times, dosage times, street addresses) - I cross-checked those against the printouts before entering them into the medical tracker
  • prescription information
  • information for household admin she is now taking over, like getting the cars inspected, and getting the plumber over to repair a leak
  • her own appointments, like a dental visit coming up
  • insurance and account related information she is now managing

Over about six hours, we managed to transfer all that information into his medical tracker and her planner.

Because she was unsure about getting rid of some of the papers, we also set up two boxes, which we are using as slow motion recycle bins.

One of our slow motion recycle bin boxes is dedicated to medical information related to my father, most of which would go into the medical tracker.

The other is for anything my mother might want to refer to later, that goes into her planner.

That way, she knows she can double-check the papers and – more importantly – has a dedicated place to put new papers as they come in.

She set a time of the day to enter new information into his medical tracker and her planner daily; but the slow motion recycle bins also give her a single, dedicated place to stash papers if she is unable to get around to them right away.

Hopefully this will give my parents a little more peace of mind in a tumultuous time.

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